It’s funny how life can take unexpected turns. Chef Paul Adair of The Gathering in Livingston, Mississippi was an engineering major working in Oxford restaurants at night when he realized how much more he preferred working with his hands and learning about cooking than attending engineering classes and working at a desk with computers.
“I had worked in restaurants all through high school and so it was natural for me to turn to that business again as a source of income in college,” Paul Adair recalls. “During high school, I did all kinds of odd jobs from washing dishes to bussing tables – at that time it was just a job. But I first started getting really interested in the food and cooking techniques when I was working in a Lebanese restaurant in Oxford. An older lady I worked for started showing me how she prepared some dishes and something just clicked.”
“The Gathering is a Southern restaurant inspired by the seasons and local artisans.” Chef Paul Adair
Later Adair also would find a mentor in Joel Miller at the Ravine in Oxford, who taught him about French cooking, and various techniques for making sauces, etc. After a five year stint in the U.S. Army, he would return to working in Oxford before discovering he could attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York on the GI Bill. While studying at the Institute, Adair further honed his craft working in restaurants in New York City and in the Hudson River Valley of upstate New York near where he and his fiancé Erica were living. These experiences taught him about the intricate inner workings of the upscale restaurant kitchen and helped him to forge his love for working with local, seasonal ingredients, something that came naturally for him, as it reflected his mother’s approach to cooking when he was a child.
“My mom always cooked with fresh ingredients,” Adair notes. “Our food almost never came from a can – everything was made from scratch. She would visit local farmers markets and fruit stands where she would find fresh, local ingredients. For me that has always been the natural way to cook.”
After returning to the Jackson area in 2013, Adair served as sous chef at Table 100 before taking the role of executive chef at The Gathering restaurant at Livingston Mercantile, which opened one year ago this November at the intersection of Highway 463 and Highway 22 near Flora.
Chef Paul likes to describe The Gathering as ‘a Southern restaurant inspired by the seasons and local artisans’ and he shared some of the guiding principles behind the restaurant’s approach to food.
“First, it has to be Southern – familiar ingredients that are part of the local culture. We may give it a new spin, but not so much that it is unrecognizable or intimidating,” Adair explains. “It must be seasonal and preferably, locally sourced. It should be made from scratch. And, it has to be something we can replicate with consistency. It could be a great dish, but if we can’t guarantee that it will come out the same every time, it doesn’t make it on the menu.”
The Gathering is fortunate to have a long list of local suppliers who are like surrogate members of the kitchen team. The produce and other products they supply to The Gathering play a large part in helping shape what makes its way to the table.
“What inspires me is going out to the fields and seeing what the farmers have coming in,” Adair adds. “One of our suppliers, The Garden Farmacy that’s located on land just behind the restaurant, so close I could throw two rocks and hit it, has beautiful kale, heirloom carrots, radishes, …and turnips, I already have on the menu. Van, Dorothy and baby Hazel Killen of Two Dogs Farm in Flora, have an unbelievable variety of squash coming in, including butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash, and what he calls ‘eatin punkins,’ great for cooking. All throughout the late fall he’ll have broccoli, cauliflower, red, green and savoy cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Right now we’re already getting about 150 pounds of collard greens from him a week.” At The Gathering the supper menu might best be described as micro-seasonal, as it is likely to change every day or so to keep up with what is fresh and available. Since lunch is ordered from a menu board, changes to it are less frequent, but it does change periodically to reflect what is in season.
The Gathering serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon and supper and is open Tuesday through Sunday. With so many demands all day and, throughout the week, Well-Being asked Chef Paul how he keeps juggling it all.
“We have an unbelievably hard working staff and we all take a lot of pride in what we do. Every person who works in the Mercantile, as managers, servers or in the kitchen is passionate about their work,” Adair notes. “We want the people who come in to enjoy themselves, to be treated well and feel like they are a part of the community. As I tell my fiancé, when people make reservations for The Gathering, it’s like they are coming over to ‘our house’ for a meal and we want them to enjoy it, feel welcome and want to come back.”
The Gathering’s Local Producers & Artisans
• Salad Days, Flora, MS – hydroponics
• Two Dog Farms, Flora, MS – field vegetables
• The Garden Farmacy, Livingston, MS – vegetables & herbs
• Delta Grind, Water Valley, MS – meal and grits
• Mississippi Bees, Flora, MS – honey
• Brown Farms, Madison, MS – eggs
• Gil’s Artisan Breads, Ridgeland, MS – bread
• J. Olive, Madison, MS – oils & vinegar
• Don Kazery, Jr., AKA “Heavy D,” Brandon, MS – produce
• Benton’s Country Hams, Madisonville, TN – country hams